When It Comes to Gluten-Free Grains, Quinoa Takes the Cake

I’m Jenny Finke, and I have celiac disease.

I was diagnosed on April 17, 2012 while eating a gluteny fast food sandwich and washing it down with a diet soda. Classy, right?

I know what it’s like to live an unhealthy, eat-whatever-you-feel-like-eating diet. I was that person not too long ago.

Fast-forward five years. I’m finally healthy. My digestive symptoms are long gone and I am fortunate enough to be able to spend my days teaching people how to follow a gluten-free AND healthy lifestyle as a certified nutrition and health coach and gluten-free blogger.

In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, I’d like to talk a bit about celiac disease, the gluten-free diet, and the wonderful world of gluten-free grains.

What Is Celiac Disease?

While many people poke fun at the gluten-free diet, and dismiss it as just a fad, for those of us with celiac disease, it’s no laughing matter.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease affecting about one percent of the U.S. population, although many people who have celiac disease don’t know they have it[1].

People with celiac disease have a difficult time digesting gluten. This means large, undigested gluten particles penetrate the lining of the small intestine, damaging the organ and a person’s ability to properly absorb and assimilate nutrients. People with celiac disease often suffer from severe digestive stress, skin inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, chronic fatigue and more.

celiac disease

Gluten-Free Grains

While wheat, barley and rye are off limits to celiacs and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivities (NCGS), there are plenty of naturally gluten-free – and healthy – whole grains they can still enjoy, including one of the world’s oldest superfoods, quinoa.


Quinoa first originated more than 5,000 years ago with the Incas in the mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The Incas revered quinoa, calling it the “mother of all grains.”

While most people think of quinoa as a grain because of its look, texture and nutritional makeup, quinoa is actually a seed. It’s part of the Goosefoot family, a plant family that includes sugar beets, Swiss chard and spinach![2] Those who cannot tolerate grains can often tolerate quinoa because of its plant-based roots.

Quinoa is arguably the most nutritionally beneficial gluten-free “grain,” as it’s the only plant food that also is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids.

“Essential” means that your body cannot make these amino acids; rather they must come from food. Therefore, it’s “essential” that you consume all nine amino acids each day as they are the building blocks for good health, strong muscles and bones, and healthy tissues and organs.

In addition to being a complete protein, quinoa is high in fiber, helping those who eat it maintain good digestive health and relief from constipation. Quinoa is high in iron and contains omega 3 fatty acids, which keep inflammation at bay. It’s also a low glycemic “grain” – so it won’t spike and crash your blood sugar levels; rather it will digest slowly in your body and keep you full longer.

Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice, but unlike rice, quinoa has a distinct nutty flavor. It can be enjoyed as a standalone grain or topped with stir-fried vegetables, grilled chicken and a sauce for a fun meal.

img_3638Cucina & Amore’s Quinoa Meals also offer a great way to enjoy this ancient “grain.” The company’s conveniently packaged pre-cooked Quinoa Meals come with a delicious sauce topper. For those of us with celiac disease, finding something to eat in a pinch is hard to do. Having ready-to-go meals made with healthy, high-quality ingredients is what makes Cucina & Amore’s Quinoa Meals so perfect for those following a gluten-free diet.

Brown Rice

Whole grains are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet and those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities should feel free to enjoy them guilt-free.

Brown rice is naturally gluten-free and contains vitamin B, minerals, fatty acids and fiber. Some people don’t like the texture of brown rice, as it can be hard to chew, so they opt for white rice instead. However, this is an unwise swap. White rice is stripped of the nutritious germ and bran during processing, leaving only the nutritionally devoid starchy carbohydrate behind[3].

A good way to combat the hard texture of brown rice is to add a little extra water and a few tablespoons of olive oil or butter to the rice as it cooks. These add-ins will make the brown rice softer and more palatable.


Millet is another gluten-free, fiber-rich ancient grain. It has been a staple grain in Asia and India for 10,000 years and it contains important minerals like magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Millet can be cooked like rice or mashed like potatoes, making this whole grain quite versatile at the dinner table.

Best Gluten Free Grains (1)


Despite its name, buckwheat is a naturally gluten-free grain – er, seed – that is also rich in fiber and protein. Buckwheat seeds are called “groats” and contain high levels of antioxidants, making it worthy of its “superfood” moniker. Many people add cooked groats to soups, stews and salads.

You actually might be eating buckwheat without knowing it. Kasha, for example, is a toasted buckwheat groat, and Japanese soba noodles are made from buckwheat (some soba noodles contain gluten – read labels carefully).


Oats are another gluten-free grain that contains plenty of soluble fiber – which is essential to good cholesterol and digestive health[4]. Oats are controversial in the celiac community because they are typically grown in rotation with wheat crops using the same fields and the same harvesting, processing and storage equipment.

Celiacs should be cautious of oats and eat oats only if they are labeled “gluten-free” and even better, if they are certified gluten-free. (Products that are self-labeled as gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million – ppm – of gluten according to the FDA; Products with a third-party GF certification contain less than 10 ppm of gluten.)

Go Ahead, Eat Those [Gluten-Free] Grains Honey!

Grains are an important part of a balanced, healthy diet and can safely be enjoyed by those with celiac disease and NCGS.

As with anything in life, enjoy whole grains in moderation as part of a well-rounded diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats and good old-fashioned water. And whatever you do, avoid the white refined grains – which immediately convert to sugar in your body – like the plague!

[1] BeyondCeliac.org – https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/facts-and-figures/
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica – https://www.britannica.com/plant/goosefoot
[3] Harvard School of Public Health – https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/whole-grains/
[4] Mayo Clinic – http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983

About the Author

Jenny Headshot 2017 ResizedJenny Finke is a certified nutrition and health coach based in Denver, Colorado. She founded her blog, Good For You Gluten Free, after a celiac diagnosis in April 2012. Today she helps her readers and clients live a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle, and she works hard to advocate for those living with celiac disease and/or following a gluten-free diet for health reasons.

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